What is a continental breakfast and what other types of breakfasts are there?
When I look for an hotel I often see the "continental breakfast" expression when they refer to their breakfasts.
I looked up the expression on Google and found:
a light breakfast, typically consisting of coffee and bread rolls with butter and jam.
This contradicts my experience as I often find a lot more than that. There are often croissants, boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, juice, sausage, tomato, baked beans, etc.
What is and what can I expect from a continental breakfast? Does the industry have a different concept? And what other kinds of breakfasts are there?
I've seen it in several occasions on booking websites and hotels describing what they offer.
It is used quite widely in Europe and North America, but there is no common rule about what is included. I have also seen it offered with Japanese as other option, but other hotels there used 'American' instead.
It is sometimes distinguished from a "Full English" breakfast [and various other country names] which includes sausages, bacon, eggs, baked beans, various potato products, toast, *et c.*, and is a much more substantial meal.
Depending on how inexpensive your "hotel" is, a "continental breakfast" could consist of as little as a large thermos coffee dispenser and a box of doughnuts near the reception desk ...
Your description fits what you get in a B&B in Scotland when you order continental breakfast.
I have never seen baked beans served for breakfast, let alone as part of a continental breakfast at a hotel.
@Robk I had it once, within the many things of a continental breakfast they also had baked beans as a buffet option together with a couple of other choices.
@Calchas - That explains the "Continental" terminology. I've been wondering for years if there was some "Insular" breakfast that had proper eggs and bacon.
@RobK You're eating your breakfast in the wrong places. ;) A full English looks something like this. (Not my photography.)
Great Britain vs the Continent
Whenever something is referred to as "continental", you can be sure it's meant as the opposite of "British". The popular myth of the newspaper headline reading "Fog Blankets the Channel; Continent Cut Off" is another example of the attitude that spawned this dichotomy.
In this case, a continental breakfast is the opposite of a full English breakfast and that is where the term originated.
Traditional English Breakfast
On the British Isles, a full breakfast (called a full English breakfast, full Scottish breakfast, full Welsh breakfast, or full Irish breakfast depending on the country; I'll use English in my answer since that's the most common term), is a warm — mostly fried — breakfast. Its exact constituents vary, but it usually consists of scrambled eggs, sausages and bacon, baked beans, fried tomatoes, and fried potatoes, sometimes with black and white pudding, or with fried up leftover vegetables from last night. It's quite a heavy meal.
In the rest of Europe, breakfast is usually mainly bread with cheese, slices of meat, or sweet or savoury spreads. Breakfast cereals, sometimes. The only ingredients that are usually eaten warm are eggs or porridge. It is a bit lighter meal than an English breakfast
Hot beverages such as coffee or tea are common to both.
The main difference between a continental breakfast and a full (English) breakfast is cold vs. hot.
A continental breakfast can be served cold, eggs having been boiled beforehand. The only hot ingredients might be the beverages — coffee, tea, hot chocolate. This reduces cost for the hotel and allows for the breakfast to be served in just about any room; it's not unusual to see the hotel bar being used for this if the hotel serves only a continental breakfast.
The hotel doesn't need any cooks to be present, just waiting staff to serve it.
If a hotel serves both a continental breakfast and a full English breakfast, the latter may be offered at a premium, since the costs to the hotel are higher as well.
If you've had a continental breakfast that included scrambled eggs and other hot dishes, it most likely was a breakfast buffet, where the hotel offers something extra to its guests, ending up a bit in the direction of a full English.
The use of the word continental is much wider than just Europe. I have seen it in the USA and Canada. Not sure, but I think I have also seen it in Japan, (for a general Western breakfast) and Australia and New Zealand.
A continental breakfast can contain hot porridge and hot tea or coffee, so hot vs. cold is not quite accurate.
@gerrit I've clarified a bit; originally I had left out the beverages. I've never gotten hot porridge as part of a continental breakfast _in a hotel_, though, so I disagree with you on that.
@SQB I have received it in a *continental breakfast buffet* in Germany and Sweden.
@SQB the method of cooking the eggs would normally be fried but these days choices are usually offered. Scrambled is most certainly NOT the default option for a genuine Full Breakfast except in buffet style breakfasts, where it is best avoided anyway as it is generally badly cooked, rubbery slop. Also hash browns are an American invention and NOT considered part of a traditional breakfast, although fried potatoes may be. Also, on the continent cold meats are a frequent addition to breakfast as well as cheese, as are museli and yogurt.
@StevePettifer corrected. I (incorrectly) omitted the sliced meat because I couldn't come up with a single word for "stuff you put on bread", which is called _broodbeleg_ in Dutch.
In my college dorm cafeteria continental breakfast meant they stopped serving the bacon and eggs and only beverages and some basic breads were available. I'm sure this is just an American misuse of the term.
In great parts of the rest of Europe, breakfast is usually also cereals (common in most parts) and porridge (especially common in the northern parts). Especially in Scandinavia, cereals and porridge are traditionally more common as everyday breakfast options than bread. Particularly pastry and bread served with meat toppings would be common for Sunday breakfast, but not for everyday breakfast.